“Both creepy…and quite moving.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Wall’s story couldn’t be more timely.”
Stolen Innocence is the gripping New York Times bestselling memoir of Elissa Wall, the courageous former member of Utah’s infamous FLDS polygamist sect whose powerful courtroom testimony helped convict controversial sect leader Warren Jeffs in September 2007. At once shocking, heartbreaking, and inspiring, Wall’s story of subjugation and survival exposes the darkness at the root of this rebel offshoot of the Mormon faith.
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About the Author
Elissa Wall is a former member of the FLDS church who was forced into marriage at age fourteen. She left the FLDS at age eighteen and she currently resides with her two children and her husband, Lamont.
Lisa Pulitzer is a former correspondent for the New York Times andcoauthor of more than a dozen nonfiction titles, including the New York Times bestsellers Stolen Innocence, Imperfect Justice, and Mob Daughter.
Read an Excerpt
My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs
A New Mother
For us, it is the priesthood of God or nothing.
I can still smell the Dutch-oven roast on the table the night Dad announced we were getting a new mother. Even though there were already two mothers in our house, receiving a third was cause for celebration. I was nine years old and a little bit confused, but mostly I was excited because everyone else at the dinner table was acting so happy for our father.
It didn't seem at all unusual that we would have a third mother—or that our family would continue to grow. That was just a part of the only life I had ever known as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a group that broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—more popularly known as the LDS Mormon Church—so that they could continue to practice plural marriage. Sure, our home already had two mothers and almost a dozen kids, but many of the children I knew had far more than that in their families. It seemed to make sense that we would get another mother. It was just that time.
Back then, I didn't really understand much about the FLDS, but I knew that we were different from the people living around us in our Salt Lake City suburb. For one thing, we weren't supposed to play with other kids in the neighborhood, and we usually kept the curtains in the house drawn to protect our privacy and the secret life we led. Unlike most of the neighborhoodkids, we didn't get on the yellow school buses and go to public schools. Instead, we went to a special place, Alta Academy—a huge, unassuming white brick house that had been converted into a school for members of the FLDS. We also dressed differently from everyone else, wearing long church undergarments that covered our entire body and stretched from the neck to the ankles and the wrists. On top of these, the girls and women wore frilly long pioneer-style dresses year-round, which made it hard to play in the backyard and even harder to stay comfortable in the summer heat. Whereas most kids would go out in shorts and a T-shirt, we didn't own either, and even if we did, we would not have been allowed to wear them.
At the time, I didn't really know why everything had to be so different; all I knew was that I had to "keep sweet" and not complain. We were God's chosen people—and when Judgment Day came, we would be the only ones allowed into heaven. Judgment Day was known to the FLDS people as the day the destruction of the Lord would sweep across the earth, bringing fire, storms, and death in its wake. The wicked would all be destroyed and when it seemed like none would survive, the Lord would lift the worthiest people—us—off the earth while the devastation passed beneath us. Then we would be set back down and would build Zion, a place without sadness or pain. We would reside there with God and enjoy a thousand years of peace.
My father, Douglas Wall, was an elder in the FLDS Church. For him, and indeed for our whole family, receiving a third wife was a major blessing and an important milestone on the long road to eternal salvation. The idea of having more than one wife had become an integral part of the Mormon religion after Joseph Smith founded it in 1830, but the Mormon Church officially abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890, in part, so that Utah could gain statehood. Still, some of its members continued to practice in secret at the risk of being excommunicated. By 1935, some of the men who'd been expelled from the Mormon Church formed their own breakaway sect, first known as "The Work" and decades later as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They viewed plural marriage as a central tenet—and the only way to attain eternal salvation.
Members of the FLDS believe they are following the true Mormon religion as it was first envisioned by Joseph Smith. One of its central teachings is the idea of celestial marriage, in which a man must have a minimum of three wives to gain admittance to the highest of the three levels of heaven. That Dad was getting a third wife meant that he had begun to secure a place in the Celestial Kingdom for himself and his family.
Eleven of Dad's twenty-two children were still living at our home in Salt Lake City, Utah, when he broke the news that Saturday evening in October 1995. Many of my older siblings were married and had moved out to start lives of their own. My family lived on a quiet street in a suburb called Sugar House, about thirty blocks southeast of Temple Square, the headquarters of the Mormon Church, located in downtown Salt Lake City. Established in 1853, six years after Brigham Young guided the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley, Sugar House was named for the sugar mill whose contruction had never been completed there. Still, the name stuck.
Our house was set back about twenty feet from the road, with views of the Wasatch Mountains in the distance. Large pine trees and shrubs in the front yard obstructed much of the view and made the house appear smaller than it really was, but Dad had always loved this location because it had a big backyard where the kids could play. More important, it afforded a degree of privacy, which was crucial, since we didn't want people to know too much about us. Because plural marriages were forbidden in Utah, our family, like all families in the FLDS, was concerned about the attention we could receive if the outside world knew what was going on inside our house.Stolen Innocence
My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs. Copyright © by Elissa Wall. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
A New Mother 7
Growing Up and Keeping Sweet 30
Good Priesthood Children 59
In Light and Truth 74
The Rise of Warren 92
Out of Control 115
Preparing for Zion 157
A Revelation Is Made 170
The Celestial Law 190
The Word of the Prophet 209
Man and Wife 228
All Alone 250
Survival Begins 279
The Destruction Is Upon Us 301
Death Comes to Short Creek 322
False Prophet 335
Refuge in Canada 351
Nowhere to Run 374
A Pair of Headlights 391
Promise Not to Tell 415
A Story Like Mine 433
Love at Last 460
Choosing My Future 478
New Beginnings 499
Coming Forward 525
Facing Warren 552
The Trial Begins 576
The End Is in Sight 603
I Am Free 634
Author's Note 663
What People are Saying About This
"The juxtaposition of Raudman's narrative equanimity and the young girl's shocking experiences creates an arresting audio experience." -AudioFile